Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Another pair of games are coming to PlayStation Plus subscribers tomorrow, in the shapely forms of Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition and Rochard. If you like punching faces or, er, the voice of Duke Nukem muttering about solving physics puzzles, it's good news.

SSF4AE is the latest version of Capcom's face-puncher, following Street Fighter IV and Super Street Fighter IV. If you don't know and can't guess, it's like them, but with more men to kick and the balance of kicks to men tweaked. Rochard, meanwhile, is a puzzle-platformer featuring the voice of Jon St. John. It received solid reviews but not much attention, so the sequel was placed on hold.

Sony's announcement also says new Vita games are coming to Plus "later this month."

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Do you enjoy playing video games on your personal computer, and have a few dollars spare? Then you have probably bought the Humble THQ Bundle already. If not, though, the pay-what-you-want bundle is now an even bigger bargain, as the publisher today threw in Relic's RTS Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War on top of the many other fine games already in it. It ends Wednesday, so get your skates on.

Everyone who bought the bundle before this announcement will have Dawn of War added for free, but newcomers will need to beat the average price to get it.

So, to sum up, for as little as $1 (which you'd surely pay more than), you get Steam keys for Company of Heroes, CoH: Opposing Fronts, CoH: Tales of Valor, Darksiders, Metro 2033, and Red Faction Armageddon. If you beat the average price, which is $5.63 as I write this, you'll get Saints Row: The Third, Titan Quest, and now Dawn of War too. So, lots of video games.

Unsurprisingly, the first AAA bundle from Humble Bundle has been pretty popular. It's sold over 750,000, a record amount for HB, but the average price paid is unusually low. Macateers and Linuxnauts usually pay more than Windowsheads but none of these games are for their platforms, which will help drag this down. Plus, of course, some are none too pleased about Humble Bundle joining up with a big publisher and briefly stepping away from its core tenets of multiplatform and DRM-free, but will still want to buy the games.

Shacknews - Ozzie Mejia

Thanks to its unique cutting mechanic, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance certainly leaves a lasting impression. By slicing enemies into pieces, Platinum Games' upcoming action game is one of the most violent games ever created. Certainly, that's cause for concern, especially in countries like Japan where anti-violence censorship is more commonplace.

Oddly, one way of circumventing strict restrictions on gore is to avoid violence on humans. By having players fight cyborgs exclusively, the team has figured a way to make a violent game that won't be banned in Japan.

"It did help us out with ratings and restrictions," Kojima Productions lead programmer Yuji Korekado told Shacknews. However, he says that censorship wasn't the primary reason for making Raiden fight cyborgs. "From the beginning, we always to script out that it was a battle between cyborgs... what came first was the design and the fact that we wanted to have cyborgs. Since Raiden is a cyborg, we all wanted him to fight other cyborgs with overt human capabilities and have great fights that don't restrict them to human-like conditions."

Interestingly, the first few chapters of Revengeance make sure to emphasize that the cyborgs are still human beings. Raiden cavalierly dismisses the idea of cold-bloodedly killing his opposition, noting that they chose their fate by throwing their lot in with the terrorists. However, Raiden starts to learn that war is rarely black-and-white and that the underlings he cuts through may not be the consciously evil people he originally made them out to be. Raiden starts questioning whether it's right to kill and that led me to ask what types of moral questions players could expect to ask themselves over the course of the story.

"This doesn't pertain just to Raiden, but in Raiden's case, he's fighting for his own will," Korekado explained. "All the boss characters and enemies around them have their own motives and will--why they became cyborgs and are fighting against Raiden. And after battling those bosses and enemies and hearing their ideologies, why they became cyborgs, why they're fighting, and to have Raiden think about it and compare the two, we want the players to understand both sides and make their own choices. Raiden makes his own, but we want the players to know why Raiden's doing this and why the enemy's doing this, as well."

Shacknews - John Keefer

The apocalypse is upon us in only 11 days, if you believe in that sort of thing, and GameFly wants you playing games to the bitter end. In its "Not so Scary End of the World" sale, the company will be offering sales on a new batch of games every two days, starting today.

The first batch of games will be on sale for 48 hours, and include The Walking Dead and XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The list:

Other games that will be coming in future sales through December 21 include Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Torchlight 2, Borderlands 2, Need for Speed Most Wanted, Darksiders 2, Mass Effect 3 and Battlefield 3. A last chance sale will be held on December 22-24, if we are all still here.


[Disclosure: Shacknews.com is part of GameFly Media, a wholly owned subsidiary of GameFly, Inc.]

Shacknews - Steve Watts

You know how it goes. You're waiting in line at the bank, and before you know it you're embroiled in a vicious argument with another patron over what level the Pokemon Dratini evolves into Dragonair. He insists it's level 28, and he's clearly out of his mind. But without your trusty DS in hand, how could you solve this common, everyday dispute?

Good news! The Pokemon Company has released an official Pokedex app for iOS devices, giving you a Pokemon reference tool for those dozens of times per day you need one. IGN reports that the app is available now at a cost of $1.99.

That means you can give that guy the what-for. Level 28. Please.

But bear in mind, that two bucks only covers the Unova region from the Pokemon Black and White games. The other regions (Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, and Sinnoh) will be made available for $5.99 apiece, bringing your grand total up to approximately $26. It offers similar functionality to the Pokedex 3D Pro on the 3DS eShop, which goes for $14.99. It's also a reference tool about a game series, not a game itself, so you're paying for the privilege of having knowledge at your fingertips.

This is the second time The Pokemon Company, a subsidiary of Nintendo, has dipped an experimental toe into the iOS pond. Over the summer it released a free Pokemon-themed rhythm game in Japan called Pokemon: Say Tap? BW.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

When I initially played the previous downloadable content for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, nothing seemed amiss. The handful of new areas and pieces of loot littered around the familiar landscape were what I had come to expect from DLC. But now that I've played the "Dragonborn" expansion, the others simply pale in comparison. It's more ambitious, more thematically relevant, and a perfect example of Bethesda's promise to take its time with fully-featured content.

Many of those advantages can be traced to one quality. The island of Solstheim is the star of Dragonborn, a massive new area complete with its own set of nooks and crannies, sidequests, and characters. As if that weren't enough, the DLC also adds an otherworldly environment as well, but I hesitate to go into detail about it. Dragonborn slowly lifts the veil off of this area, and it's better discovered than explained.

While Dawnguard told a decent story about the ongoing war between the vampires and their sworn enemies, it didn't feel like my story. It was a side quest. It didn't fit the themes that had been built in the main quest line. Skyrim empowered the player as a walking deity, the Dovahkiin. Venturing off to settle a vampire feud had as much to do with that as the Thieves Guild or Winterhold quests. It fit the world, but it was utterly removable. Hearthfire took a step back with even less plot, unless your dream was to serve as Daddy Warbucks to Skyrim's orphan Annie.

Dragonborn doesn't suffer from this problem. As the name implies, this story is very much about the line of Dovahkiin, and the corroding influence of power and knowledge. A prior Dragonborn is reaching out from the nether to reassert himself over lesser beings, and as the current title holder it falls on you to stop him. But doing so requires a few compromises, and dipping a toe into the same corrupted well that he's drawn from.

The arc of the story feels like a natural extension or even a sequel to the main quest in Skyrim, but it isn't wrapped up in a neat little package at the end. The expansion leaves some story hooks remaining, which I can only hope means that Bethesda has more in mind along these lines. Some of the moral quandaries are never fully plumbed, but the game seems to hint that they will be.

The main quest takes place almost entirely in Solstheim, and the critical path serves as a lengthy tour of the island. Resolving the primary struggle will net a fair amount of loot and powers that will serve well back in Skyrim as well. Suffice to say, you'll be a much more powerful Dragonborn by the end of it, and more connected to the titular dragons to boot. And like Skyrim itself, Solstheim is absolutely packed with new areas to discover and explore, well beyond the main quest line.

Simply put, Dragonborn lives up to Bethesda's lofty promises of larger expansions, and makes Skyrim's other content look weak by comparison. Whatever the developer has planned for the future, it should attempt this one's scope. Now that I've sunk my teeth into this hearty meal, it would be hard going back to a simple snack.


Field Reports provide our first-hand experience with the latest games and expansion packs. Dragonborn was played on a retail Xbox 360 copy of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, with a DLC code provided by the publisher. It is coming to the PC and PlayStation 3 next year.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

With Street Fighter's 25th anniversary wrapping up, and Mega Man's about to begin, Capcom is celebrating the two with Street Fighter X Mega Man, a fan-made free cross-over game. Or, more accurately, it's wisely choosing not to shut down a fan project as so many publishers would, and supporting the platformatron as a free "official" release.

Made by Seow Zong Hui with music from A_Rival, SFXMM is a new Mega Man platformer pitting the jumpy android against Street Fighter characters, stealing their powers like some sort of robovampire. Capcom's offered feedback and approval, but that pair did the heavy lifting.

Street Fighter X Mega Man is coming free to PC on December 17. Check out Capcom's announcement blog post for more, and peep this trailer:

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Dota 2 may be making the transition to a new platform, as it grows bigger and better. Valve boss Gabe Newell says the company is currently testing the game on tablets, and hopes that faster devices will make a proper release possible.

"We were working on getting Dota 2 running on some tablets," Newell told Kotaku. "That ended up being kind of a disappointment. But the good news is that tablets are getting faster very quickly, so I think we'll get the kind of performance we want and other game developers want in the near future." He said Dota 2 is "a good [game] for us to test with," since it is fast-paced and responsive, but not quite the intensity of a game like StarCraft 2.

It doesn't sound like Dota 2 is coming to your Android tablet or iPad anytime soon, but Dota 2 is the sort of game with a long shelf life thanks to its multiplayer community. Whenever tablets can handle it, the game may still be going strong.

Shacknews - Kat Bailey

Company of Heroes 2's tagline is "Winter if Coming." With the Soviets serving as the primary protagonists this time around, such a (faux) tagline makes sense. It is, after all, very cold in Mother Russia. But how will that affect the multiplayer?

For a rather large contingent of fans, this is not a trivial question. The original Company of Heroes remains one of the most popular traditional real-time strategy games this side of StarCraft, and it retains a devoted multiplayer following. Much of that appeal is derived from sheer novelty. Where StarCraft, Command & Conquer, and every other RTS are high-speed clickfests, Company of Heroes is slow and realistic. It prides itself on simulating a real battlefield.

So what's the problem? Shouldn't a new weather type add an interesting new wrinkle to the tried and true Company of Heroes formula? Well, yes. But as in the normal campaign, there are a couple potential downsides to consider as well.

Among them, it's possible that people just won't want to play in the snow. Competitive players are notoriously fickle about random elements; they frown upon anything that might throw off their mojo. "Final Destination, no items"--a reference to the hyper-serious Smash Bros. community's love of flat levels in the normally kinetic party game--became a meme for a reason. Serious players just don't want anything else on their mind while trying to destroy their enemies.

But winter, if not random, is certainly an element that demands attention. Its chief feature is that blizzards deal damage over time to soldiers and kill them. Entire armies can fall through glare ice and perish, losing the game for one side in an instant. Snow reduces mobility. Fires have to be built to compensate for the cold; or, if possible, vehicles. Lots of vehicles.

On a new map based on Rzhev, a real life battlefield where more than one million Soviets ended up dead or injured, opted for the latter. Rather than risk an early confrontation in the freezing cold, the prevailing strategy was to rush up the tech tree to vehicles that can ferry soldiers around without them getting hypothermia. After that, it was all tanks, all the time (and rockets too).

This all makes a certain amount of intuitive sense. In the past, snow has just been another tileset; a nice aesthetic change, but nothing more. In the realistic world of Company of Heroes, it's only natural that your soldiers should be freezing to death in the midst of a driving blizzard. Some players may even embrace that brutal reality. More likely though, players will go out of their way to avoid it; because quite frankly, playing in the winter time takes some getting used to.

Over here on the press side, even seasoned Company of Heroes veterans are getting chewed up and spat out by the winter tilesets. The number of x-factors involved with the snow raises the degree of difficulty considerably; and with summer maps also available, it's easy to say "Screw that" and go with a somewhat more traditional approach. Competitive players, so sensitive about those random elements, will undoubtedly do just that.

Luckily though, even without one of Company of Heroes 2's signature features, the multiplayer still feels fresh and exciting after all these years. Apart from the snow maps, Relic is bringing a raft of features to the table, including personal profiles with ribbons and medals that can be earned through multiplayer achievements. Relic has also retooled the command ability trees, and the result is both easy-to-understand and strategically significant.

Essentially, either the Germans or Russians can bring three commanders and their unique set of abilities with them to any given battle. One commander can power up infantry, for example, and bring powerful artillery barrages to bear while a Stuka JU-87 patrols overhead. Another commander is much more defensive in nature, allowing players to dig in and play defense with the help of special emplacements and the ability to call in relief infantry.

You can choose from one of these commanders at any point in the battle once they've charged up; but once you've committed to one commander, you're stuck with them. For that reason, it's usually good to see how the battle is going before calling in a commander. If you're losing, one well-placed super tank might turn the tide of battle. If you're winning, then defense is called for. Calling in the right commander at the right time can be one of those most critical decisions of a game.

Beyond that, Company of Heroes 2 is mostly notable for the Soviets, who stand in stark contrast to the more technologically capable Germans. The Soviets, true to form, are able to get to light tanks and other weapons much faster than their Nazi counterparts, and their soldiers are much easier to train, though they lack raw power in a stand-up fight. Being able to get to vehicles faster also makes the Russians more capable in the snow early on, which will doubtlessly make them the faction of choice for those who are keen to dispense with building fires and just want to roll over the opposition.

Of course, that's assuming that people don't go out of their way to avoid winter maps (don't put it past people to simply quit if they see a hint of snow). Knowing the gaming population at large, many are apt to do just that. In the end, dealing with snow isn't really that hard once you've adapted to it; but a lot of people are unlikely to see it that way after watching their infantry freeze to death. Summer maps will be Company of Heroes 2's equivalent of "Final Destination."

It's kind of a shame, really, because of all seasons, winter is the one most apt to have a major effect on people's strategies. As in real life, they will have to think twice before charging out into the snow; and though it slows the pace of the already reserved Company of Heroes even further, it fits in rather well with the game's "war is hell" approach to defensive combat. If any game can do winter right, it's Company of Heroes 2. It's just too bad that few people are apt to notice.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Dark Souls 2 was one of this year's surprise announcements at the VGAs, adding another game to the beloved (and brutally difficult) series. But this game is getting new direction and leadership, and aims to be a bit more welcoming for new players.

Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura will share responsibilities as game directors, and their personalities are influencing the shift. "I personally am the sort of person who likes to be more direct than subtle," Shibuya told Edge. "[Dark Souls 2] will be more straightforward and more understandable."

This doesn't necessarily mean the game will be easier, but the pair seem squarely focused on making it a bit more approachable. That way, those too put off by the game's early hours might find they enjoy it.

...